Addiction gets a bad rap but most of us fall into some type of addictive behavior over the course of our life.  We can become addicted to a substance such as alcohol, marijuana, caffeine or even sugar.  We can also develop what’s called a “process addiction” when we become preoccupied and compulsive about an activity like overeating, gaming/texting, shopping, gambling, or working too much.

All addictions affect brain functioning by overstimulating the reward circuit in our brain and causing the brain to adjust by producing less dopamine and dopamine receptors, a natural chemical system in the brain that helps us to feel good.  As our dopamine levels drop, we experience less pleasure in our daily activities and begin to rely on the addictive substance or behavior to give our brain higher and higher levels of stimulation.  It’s easy to see how people begin to lose interest in routine activities and relationships as an addiction grows more powerful.  Some types of addiction, especially substance and addictions, can also cause people to experience strong physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop making recovery more difficult.

There are different ways of understanding addiction, but most experts agree that it is important to view addiction as a disease with biological, environmental and social causes.  In many cases it is not enough to just stop using the substance or engaging in the compulsive behavior.  Recovery often requires us to change patterns of thinking that lead to isolation, treat underlying problems such as grief, stress and trauma, and improve the quality of our relationship with ourself and other people.  Talking to a trusted friend or family member, going to a 12-step recovery meeting, or consulting a therapist or substance abuse counselor are all good places to start.  It takes courage to face a problem like addiction but we do know that most people who seek treatment will eventually recover and find happiness and purpose in their lives.